Matthew Slater announces NFL retirement with heartfelt statement

Matthew Slater announces NFL retirement with heartfelt statement originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater has called it a career.

Slater announced his retirement from the NFL after 16 seasons on Tuesday via the Patriots' social media accounts.

"For the last 25 years of my life, 16 of them as a New England Patriot, I have been incredibly blessed to be able to emulate the man I saw on those fields in Meridian (Miss.) by playing the game that I love so much," Slater wrote in part. "I have given all that I possibly can to respect and honor the game. Though it is time for my relationship with the game to evolve, the love I have for it will last a lifetime.

" ... In 2008, I came here as a young man with hopes and dreams. In 2024, I can retire knowing this experience has exceeded any hope or dream I ever had."

The Patriots traded up to select Slater in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. The UCLA product made an immediate impact on special teams, returning 11 kicks for 155 yards and recording 12 tackles in 14 games his rookie year.

Slater was voted to become a special teams captain in 2011, a role he would maintain for the remainder of his career. The 38-year-old developed into arguably the greatest gunner in NFL history, earning 10 Pro Bowl selections (a special-teams record) and five first-team All-Pro nods while helping New England to three Super Bowl titles.

Former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently made the case for Slater to become the first gunner inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I think Slater really is eventually going to be a Hall of Fame candidate,” Belichick told reporters on Dec. 29. “As a coverage player, not as a specialist and he’s not a returner. So, he’s in a very unique category, one that I don’t think is represented in the Hall of Fame.

"But based on what he did during his career, the length of time he did it, and the level he’s done it at. … I would say this guy has been as productive as anybody has ever been at his position throughout his entire career, which is very lengthy. I think he’s the best that’s ever done what he’s done.”

The Patriots honored Slater with a special "Captain 18" hoodie before Sunday's regular-season finale vs. the New York Jets. Just before kickoff for the Week 18 matchup, Slater shared an emotional embrace with his parents Jackie and Annie as he took the field for the final time.

Slater ends his one-of-a-kind NFL career with 190 tackles in 238 games. Most importantly, he finishes as one of the most respected Patriots players in franchise history.